November 5: America's Guy Fawkes Day
Updated: 6 days ago
"Remember, remember, the fifth of November /
"Gunpowder, treason, and plot."
Growing up in a small village outside of Oxford, the highlight of the long wet dreary season that was Autumn was the time when we burned all the wood in our backyards in a huge collective pile and let off Catherine Wheels. At the top of the bonfire, in effigy, was a recognizably roguish figure with a felt hat and a mask. Guy Fawkes. You would get a penny if you wheeled your effigy around the village and people liked your work. It was like Halloween except without the candy, and with all the antipopery that a Protestant country could muster.
I didn't know then that Guy Fawkes had been caught trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. I didn't know that he was probably framed. I certainly didn't know that he was Catholic, and I wouldn't have known what that meant (I still don't really get it). All I knew was that we got to burn things, and stay up late, and it was fun.
Yesterday, on national television, the President of the United States tried to burn the government down. He committed treason against the values the Presidency was built on, in the People's House. He called for violence, and then the network (at least the one I was watching, cut him off). A man clearly intent on sedition lit a fuse. And the networks, one by one, put the fuse out.
Trump is now an afterbirth of history. The military is protecting the airspace around the future President of the United States, and the Secret Service has added agents to Biden's security detail. Kamala Harris will be, come what may, the next Vice-President of the United States. As Abby Phillip put it so beautifully this morning on CNN, there is a kind of poetic justice in a President who began his career with a racist lie about the birth of Barack Obama being replaced by a black woman. In the picture above, both women are crying. There is also a deep and glorious truth in the fact that Fulton County, DeKalb County, and Clayton County, the home of John Lewis's district, turned Georgia blue for the first time since 1992. Talk about the arc of justice. And there's more. Clark County is the home of the casino workers that Trump has been treating like indentured servants for his Neronic kingdom for decades. They will vote to bring him down. Want more? Maricopa County will decide that John McCain and his widow Cindy were right, and vote Arizona blue, flipping the state against the man who flipped them off. The Spirit Ironic, Hardy's greatest creation (in "The Dynasts," his mind-numbingly bad verse play about the defeat of Napoleon), has sung its final chorus. Guy Fawkes is dead.
Let us now praise the ordinary people who did this. The woman preparing the ballots to be scanned in the Fulton County election office, always behind the right shoulder of the CNN reporter, always laughing with her co-worker, always masked, except when she took a long drink of water from a thermos, always working, even when asked to wave for the camera. A statue should be made of her, her hair in a bun, her glasses on her head and her mask on, and her purple shawl around her shoulders. At least put her shawl in the Smithsonian. Brava! Brava! Brava!
The man with the map for MSNBC, Steve Kornacki, figuring out the new Clayton County numbers at 4:42 AM in his head and writing them on his screen, determining that Biden had finally turned the corner in Georgia with a 917 vote lead. The 75 million people* who said "enough," against the 69 million people who said "more." Those 69 million people* have real concerns, and expressed real pain and real anger. But they were really out to lunch. Or they were as seditious as their leader, reveling in a chance to raise a middle finger to a world that had left them behind.
Let us reflect every 5th of November from now until the end of the Republic on what nearly happened this election. The country nearly voted for 4 more years of the destruction of democracy. 69 million people, more than the 65 million that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, rose up and said "Blow this all up. Tear it all down." And thank God, thank Ruth, thank the stars, the Gunpowder Plot was defeated in time. The fuse is out, for now. Let us remember, always remember, the fifth of November. A man in the White House spoke the following words of direct incitement: "In Philadelphia, observers have been kept far away, very far away. So far that people are using binoculars to try and see, and there’s been tremendous problems caused. They put a paper on all of the windows so you can’t see in, and the people that are banned are very unhappy and become somewhat violent" (emphasis mine). There's only one way to read that: "Proud Boys, stand up." And then at 4:42 AM on November the 6th the sun rose over Georgia (thank you, Atlanta!). And at 9:00 AM the sun rose over Pennsylvania (thank you, Philadelphia!). And later today or tomorrow the sun will rise over Nevada and Arizona (thank you, Las Vegas! thank you, Phoenix!). Just as the stars show their light to us long after they have died, these future events are known. Once an object passes an event horizon it has already taken place. We have a new President in the White House, and a new Vice-President. It is morning in America again.
"Remember, remember, the fifth of November.
Gunpower, treason, and plot."
*Update: as of November 17, the actual totals in the popular vote were 79M for Biden, and 73M for Trump. Final Electoral College totals: 306-223 (as Trump would say).